Rooney, Diaz-Balart, defy Trump; vote for Defense authorization bill

The US Capitol. (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

Dec. 9, 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) defied outgoing President Donald Trump last night, voting in favor of a defense authorization bill he is threatening to veto.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), one of Trump’s most ardent defenders, was absent.

None of the members issued statements explaining their votes.

The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act (House Resolution 6395) passed the US House of Representatives by a vote of 335 to 78. (It is named in honor of Rep. William Thornberry (R-13-Texas), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, who is retiring after 25 years of service in the House.)

The bill authorizes $740 billion in spending on US defense for fiscal year 2021. It includes a 3 percent pay raise for military servicemembers.

Trump’s war on Defense

Earlier in the day Trump demanded that Republicans oppose the bill, tweeting: “I hope House Republicans will vote against the very weak National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I will VETO. Must include a termination of Section 230 (for National Security purposes), preserve our National Monuments, & allow for 5G & troop reductions in foreign lands!”

Section 230 is a law, part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, that provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an “interactive computer service” who publish information provided by third-party users. In practical terms, it protects online platforms like Twitter and Facebook from being sued for content posted by users.

Trump has attacked Twitter for flagging his past false and misleading statements, arguing that Twitter’s actions amount to selective censorship. On May 28 he issued an Executive Order removing some of the immunity granted by Section 230. However, this order is being challenged in court and so has not taken effect.

Section 230 has no direct bearing on the US Defense Department. Trump is using this must-pass piece of legislation as leverage to try to get Section 230 repealed. Presumably he believes that threatening this foundational legislation for Internet companies will force them to bend to his will.

Trump also opposes the Defense Department’s intention to remove the names of Confederate generals from the names of military installations and a variety of other provisions that modify or restrain his actions.

Next steps

The bill has already passed the Senate and the two versions are being reconciled by committees in both the House and Senate. The final bill will be sent to Trump, who has said he will veto it.

The lopsided vote in the House demonstrates that there are the votes in the House to override a presidential veto. A Senate version of the bill passed in that chamber in July by a vote of 86 to 14, demonstrating a similar majority to override a veto.

A Trump-Congress showdown could occur if both sides move quickly enough before the end of the year to finalize the bill. Otherwise, the legislation will die with the end of this Congress and the entire process will have to start over again in the new Congress that starts in January. However, such a delay would adversely affect funding for the military and national security.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

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